Linguistic interference and those pesky private households

“Linguistic interference” refers to when speakers of one language apply knowledge from a second, with occasionally strange results.

An interesting example of linguistic interference that I often see in English texts written by German natives was on display in an interview given by the economist Heiner Flassbeck of Hamburg University for Real News Network: Flassbeck refers at one point to “private households,” a direct translation of “private Haushalte.” This error is quite common: The descriptor “private” is wholly superfluous, as “households” are always “private” in English (“public households” do not exist, as they do in German).

Yet there are additional examples of linguistic interference in the interview. The title of the interview itself seems to have been selected by Flassbeck, as the article and gerund use in “Systemic Malfunctioning of the Labor and Financial Markets” is slightly off. Rephasing is needed; the best title is probably “Systematic Malfunction in Labor and Financial Markets”. Also good: “The Systemic Malfunction of Labor and Financial Markets.”

In addition, at the beginning of the interview, an awkward translation for Flassbeck’s book is offered: “Act Now! The Global Manifesto for Economic Policy.” Although the phrasing in German is “Das Manifesto,” a direct translation here is slightly stilted. The English title should read “A Global Manifesto for Economic Policy.”

2 thoughts on “Linguistic interference and those pesky private households”

  1. That’s a very interesting topic, and I believe we, as translators, are even more prone to that kind of error. That’s because we are reading materials in a foreign language most of the time, so we may accidentally (and subconsciously) transport the structure of the foreign language into our mother language.

    We have to pay attention all the time and ask ourselves while translating: “Is this really common in our language? Would a regular native speaker talk like that?”

    I often use Google to validate a given structure. If no one or very few people used a similar structure across all the internet, there may be something wrong with it.

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